Sunday, June 30, 2013
Jury Service: Reflections--Late Hours
This post continues my reflections on jury service, based on my recent experience as a potential juror in a voir dire in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Although I felt that we jurors were treated in a respectful and friendly way by the individuals with whom we interacted at the courthouse, I also noticed that the system itself has several disturbing elements. My previous post focused on the prohibition against juror note-taking. This post will focus on late hours.
I was disturbed to find that jury service in Orleans Parish Criminal Court may require hours that are (to my mind) unreasonable. Jury service may require hours that go well into the evening or even well into the night. No one goes home until dismissed by the judge, and the judge may decide to keep going, even though it may be past 10 p.m.
Although I myself was not subjected to late hours during my recent jury service (the latest I was at the courthouse was 3 p.m.), others were subjected to late hours. I find this disturbing, and especially so since the preliminary information one receives from the Orleans Parish Criminal Court about one's coming jury service says NOTHING about the possibility of these late hours. Potential jurors can show up for jury service expecting the day to end by 5 p.m. and find that they are not dismissed until much later. This can pose a serious problem for single parents or for anyone with responsibility for others' care.
Although I am not responsible for the care of others, I see two difficulties for myself with these late hours. First, I am very much a morning lark--not a night owl. The later it gets, the less well I function. If I were expected to deliberate as a juror at 10 p.m., I assure you that the quality of my deliberations would be greatly diminished by fatigue. I find it unreasonable to expect quality work from jurors at such a late hour.
Second, Orleans Parish Criminal Court is located in a dangerous neighborhood. I would have safety concerns about walking back to my car after dark, especially at such a late hour as 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. This concern in the back of my mind would very likely affect the quality of my deliberation. Of course, one can walk to the parking lot together with a number of other jurors and an accompanying deputy, but still, there is the drive through the dangerous neighborhood to get home. Also, not everyone has someone waiting at home to insure that they arrive safely or that a search is conducted immediately if they don't. For some, if they don't make it home safely, this won't be discovered until they don't show up for work the next day--or even later, if they are retired or don't work.
I believe that jurors' days should end at a reasonable hour, such as 5 p.m. Going later into the evening should be a rare occurrence, and going into the night simply shouldn't happen at all. Most important, jurors should be TOLD, in the preliminary jury service information, about the possibility of late hours.